CHAPTER II: ESCAPE

A SANTHARIAN NARRATION

 
The Frethoni Book of Fables   
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Introduction. For weeks Heir'gor stays in the Losh-Oc camp, his fate unsure. In order to win the trust of the orcs the bard learns the Kh'om'chrom tongue and makes himself useful whereever he can. But he waits for the moment that finally will allow him to escape, and eventually that moment arrives. And he seizes thes opportunity.
 

2 weeks later
 

rash!

Heir'gor came instantly awake. The orc children were, as usual, up at an unearthly hour and ruckusing about. 'In some ways, they're very like human children', he thought. As a bard, he had few illusions about "innocent children", having observed them behaving just like adults, only without the disguise of manners and social rules.

By now he had learned the orclings' names. Though they had been born in a litter, orcs placed a great deal of importance on the birth order of their babies. The firstborn was H'rok, then there was Ph'ragh, and the last was M'ruk. The names translated loosely as Horse, Stone, and Fangs, he guessed. He had figured out that young orcs had short names which would be added to as they grew older, with descriptive adjectives that suited. Kroch-cha translated to something like Good Female, due to the fact that she had had three male children, all of which had survived, and so enjoyed an unusually high status for a female orc.

Heir'gor watched the little orcs playing. A loud grunt came from Kroch-cha, and he decided to get in her good graces and take the children out so she could sleep. Maybe he could teach them some games that didn't involve jumping on him. Orc children had very physical games like Hunt the Tirpan, Kill the Enemy (any other race), and so on.

He didn't know much Kh'omchr'om yet, but one could convey a lot with gestures. He rose and waved to the little orcs, indicating they should follow him. Mostly out of curiosity, they did.
 

Heir'gor decided to teach them an old Kuglim children’s game called "Duck!" He found a ball (an inflated animal bladder) and beckoned to the little orcs. Then he indicated to them to stand some distance apart and then mimed throwing the ball back and forth, trying to hit the one in the middle.

“Throw the ball!

“Barrrll?”

“Yes, ball. Throw!” Heir’gor tossed the ball at M'ruk, in the center. He dodged instinctively and turned on the bard with a snarl. Hastily the bard explained,

“Kroch, kroch! (Good, good!) That’s what you’re supposed to do.” He approximated an orcish smile by spreading back his lips to show all his teeth. The orcling was somewhat puzzled by this response, for he was expecting Heir’gor to cower in terror, but waited to see what would happen. Heir’gor tossed the ball to the other two. They quickly got the idea and started to play. Heir’gor sidled backwards toward the outskirts of the orc settlement, carefully skirting the orc cattle herders and their animals. He pretended to watch the animals for a moment. The massive beasts were, to him,surprisingly well cared for. He edged a little further past the fence. Maybe he could escape…

“H’mmrt!” (Oh no you don’t, or, lit. ‘You won’t!’) The sentry knocked Heir’gor to the ground, then leaned over, took hold of the Bard’s right foot, and squeezed. Heir’gor cried out as his bones cracked.

He crawled back to the cave, the little orcs following curiously. Kroch’cha took one look, picked him up bodily and carried him to the back room. Grumbling to herself in incomprehensible gutterals, she crushed some alth’mon leaves together with animal fat and smeared the resulting paste onto his foot. This hurt so badly Heir’gor nearly bit through his lip from the pain, but then the numbing took over and relaxed. Kroch’cha gave him a tea made from the same leaves to drink.

She took care of him in a rough but not unkind way for the next few days, and Heir’gor learned more about orcish healing methods than he had ever wanted to know. Kroch-cha did not bother to set the bones and the Bard knew he would have a permanent limp. But he was grateful enough just to be alive.

7 weeks later

Heir’gor huddled in a corner, hoping to escape notice. The orcs were celebrating again. He knew that meant bad news, and possibly more captives. His stomach twisted with nausea. He remembered the screams from three nights ago, when they’d caught the Ashmari hunter and given him to the young orcs for their amusement. He didn’t think he could stand it again. Not, he thought bitterly, that I have a choice. At least his music had saved him from a similar fate.

It had been ten weeks all in all. He had nearly been killed several times, and only his flexibility had prevented him from having broken limbs when one of the little orcs jumped at or on him. Though Kroch’cha had rescued him once or twice, generally she tended to watch her children maul him with what Heir’gor now recognized as an indulgent smile. Heir’gor was missing the top part of one ear. He had tooth and claw marks all over his body. He limped from the broken, and badly set bones in his foot. He was thin and filthy, unrecognizable as the handsome young bard Vir’tiert had smiled at.

He had learned enough of the orc tongue that he could follow some of what they were saying. It seemed that they had encountered a party of the Diorye'oleal elves and had brought some of the remains back with them. It didn’t sound like any of those remains were still alive. He cautiously crept off to where the little orcs were fighting over a leg bone in the back of the cave.

“H’rimt na p’tyr!” (Stop that!) he growled at them, trying to get the gutturals right.

“K’mrrt!” Ph'ragh responded, which Heir’gor recognized as the orcish equivalent of “Shan’t!”. He sighed - this was their standard response to both him and Kroch-cha, and so he tried for a different approach.

“B’korraa?” he said invitingly. “‘Z’rovkya H’rok’?” (Music? ‘The Bearded Horse’?)

They dropped the leg bone and scampered towards him. They loved that particular song, which Kroch-cha had taught Heir’gor, and which he had loosely translated and set to his own language, since he could not sing in Kh’om’ch’rom without getting a very sore throat. He sang softly, with dramatic gestures, which the young orcs mimicked enthusiastically.

“The Bearded Horse!
It is strong, brave and fearless!
The Bearded Horse!
It has no equal!
The Losh Oc are like the Bearded Horse
They are strong, brave and fearless!
They have no equal!”


After he had repeated the song about six times, Kroch-cha intervened and dragged her screeching children off to bed, cuffing them about the ears as they squealed, “K’mrrt! K’mrrrrrrrrt! B’korraa rught!” (I won't! I woooonnn't! More music!)

Heir’gor slunk quietly back to the main cavern where the adult males were celebrating with a revolting drink called something like Yrr’la’h’rok, made from fermented tirpan milk, crushed alth’mon leaves and other mysterious substances he did not want to think about. He did not want to go there, but he was starving, and he could usually get some of the kragghi bean stew at the hearth. At least he knew what was in that. He would not touch any meat prepared by the orcs, for, as he said to himself, “It’s not what you might be eating so much as who.” Although the orcs normally did not eat human meat, Heir'gor did not want to take any chances. Giving the celebrating orcs a wide berth, he helped himself to the beans.

Suddenly Heir’gor was struck by the realization that there was no-one tending the food. All the orc warriors were eating and drinking across the room and paying no attention to him. He glanced around quickly, then, heart pounding, reached for the shelf containing the herbs the orcs used for flavouring. His hand closed over a package of alth’mon leaves.

Back in his corner, the Bard shuddered all over with reaction. He was nauseated with fear, but he was desperate. Hopefully they won’t notice the taste, he thought. Not only had he emptied the container of alth’mon leaves into the stew, he had added some additional kragghi sap to disguise the taste. The orcs liked their food spicy. Heir’gor was not sure how drastically the alth’mon leaves would affect the orcs, but he knew healers used them to numb bodies. He reasoned that an overdose of that amount would at least make the orcs very ill, particularly when combined with the fermented drink they enjoyed.

He waited for what seemed like a long time. Finally, when there was no more noise coming from the main area but loud orcish snores, he crept out, past the females’ quarters and out a side entrance. He headed towards the latrines so as to have an excuse if he was caught. But his luck held and no-one saw him step from behind the latrine trenches into the Oro forest. The bard looked up at the night sky. Oh Lier’tyan, Sur’tyan, protect your faithful child! He turned towards the south, and then his nerve broke, and he began to run.

Heir’gor did not stop running until he staggered past a small dell carpeted with poeritt vines. Their aromatic scent was heavy in the air. The bard stared at them for a few moments and then a tiny smile spread over his face. He moved carefully into the little valley, picking berries and crushing them between his hands, then rubbing them over his body. Then he continued southwards. When he was too exhausted to go on, he curled up under some bushes and fell asleep.

Something shoved him, roughly. Heir’gor jolted into awareness, terror surging through him and holding him immobile. He stared up into the long face of a small tirpan, its large eyes wide and curious. It nudged him again, then lipped his shirt hopefully. Obviously, it had been attracted by the scent of the crushed berries he had rubbed over himself. Very, very carefully, Heir’gor sat up. He reached out a hand to the horse, gently touching its muzzle and neck. The tirpan stepped back, but seemed unafraid. He wondered where the herd was, and then he realized that the little horse was an outcast. She, for the horse was a mare, was nor’sidian black from tufted ears to feathered hooves.

“Here, now,” the Bard said softly. “Come to me, my beauty. Come to me.” Turning his head to the side so as not to seem too aggressive, he rose slowly to his feet, murmuring softly. Cautiously, he approached her from the side. She turned to face him and Heir'gor froze, recognizing the wariness of that action. He looked away from her and made a soft nickering sound. She watched him for a moment then turned sideways to him, which indicated that she had decided he was not something to fear. The bard stepped towards her, carefully moving alongside her body and then gently leaned against her. She responded naturally by leaning into him. Heir’gor silently gave thanks that the tirpans were normally gentle placid animals. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could escape by horseback. He knew the orcs would be after him, simply from sheer outrage at his daring to escape. And he knew they would not allow him to live this time. He only hoped that he had slowed them down enough by poisoning their food.

On horseback, he would have a chance to escape. Tirpans were not particularly fast, but they could outrun wargs through sheer stamina, with enough of a head start. Carefully the bard slid his leg up and over the little mare’s back. She jumped and snorted, then gave a little buck, but Heir’gor was on her back. She shuddered her coat as if flies were bothering her, then settled down, turned her head around and nipped at his leg. But the bard was ready for that trick and moved his leg so quickly that the little mare's teeth grazed her own ribs. She awarded him what could only be described as a dirty look. Heir’gor smiled, leaned forwards and pressed his heels into her sides. He was a Kuglim - he could ride anything! "I’ll call you Beina’gor (dark sister)," he told the tufted ears. They flicked backwards as if to acknowledge his words and for the first time in nearly a season, Heir’gor laughed aloud.

They headed east, towards the sea. Heir’gor did not want to even try to get back to his own tribe through the Oros, not with orcs on his trail. Nor did he want to fight his way through the Tandalas. The further away he got, the less likely it was that he would be recaptured. If he could get to the coast, he might be able to get passage on a trade ship. And with Beina’gor, he would not need to worry about finding water. Now that it was late summer, there would be food available as well. Finally, Heir’gor began to feel a tiny flickering of hope.

 


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